Fargas' best days ahead?

For a long time people criticized the way Justin Fargas ran the ball. Too upright, they said. Too prone to injury. Now that he's supplanted LaMont Jordan as the Raiders' featured back, Fargas is still running with the same reckless abandon that he always had, only now the criticisms have stopped.

Justin Fargas rushed for 104 yards in last week's 24-17 loss to Houston, the second time this season that he's topped the century mark. His 5.4 yards-per-carry average is third highest among all NFL running backs with at least 100 carries or more and he's on pace to set a career high for rushing yards.

"I think what's happened with Justin, Justin's really improved," Oakland coach Lane Kiffin said. "It's a lot of credit to (running backs coach) Tom Rathman. Justin's really, he has, from the first day we got here, he has just dug in to Tom. He's always around and he's carrying the drills over to game day. This is an example of a guy getting an opportunity but not just an opportunity, a guy really improving. If you look at him running last year as opposed to this year, I think he's gotten a lot better and it's a big credit to him and his coach."

The Raiders certainly welcomed Fargas' performance. Since the team led the NFL in rushing through four games, the run game has dropped off dramatically and the offense as a whole has struggled as a result.

Jordan, who had 424 yards on 84 carries during the first month of the season, has just 97 yards on 45 carries over the last four games. That and a nagging back injury led to Fargas being moved ahead of Jordan on the depth chart.

"Justin's one of those downhill runners, one cut then downhill," fullback Justin Griffith said. "For this system, that's what you need, a downhill runner."

In addition to being Oakland's most effective running back lately, Fargas has also emerged as one of the team's best blocking backs, a big factor in the team's decision to start him. He's also avoided the injuries that plagued him earlier in his career.

"I've been working hard for a long time to get in this position," Fargas said. "But it's not a thing where I feel satisfied because there's a lot more that I can do. My best football's in the future."

-- Defensive tackle Warren Sapp (knee) did not practice and has missed two straight days, but is expected to play against Chicago.

-- Backup center Jake Grove was held out of practice after taking the majority of reps on Wednesday when starter Jeremy Newberry didn't work out. Newberry returned to practice Thursday and is expected to start against the Bears.

-- The game against Chicago is sold out, a team spokesman announced.

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